Essay On Science And Social Application

Being associated with the priesthood, it was also intimately bound up with non-scientific practice and non-scientific interpretation—magic and theology.

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Science, in the more restricted sense in which it is normally employed in English-speaking countries, is that activity by which today we attain the great bulk of our knowledge of and control over the facts of nature.

This activity, like other human activities, has developed and evolved, and by no means all the stages in its evolution have merited the title of scientific.

And it had its birth of free speculative enquiry, its parallel to the Greek phase of natural science—but two thousand years later, in the philosophers of the seventeenth and especially the eighteenth centuries.

Finally, its modern stage now dawning has had, like the modern stage of natural science, its scattered precursors, its Roger Bacons and Leonardos—and it has had its precursor in the restricted sense, its equivalent of Francis Bacon in the Renaissance.

It is different and must be different for one basic reason—the investigator is inside instead of outside his material.

Man cannot investigate man by the same methods he uses to investigate external nature.Once agriculture had given the possibility of settled civilizations, with written record and specialized social classes, the hand-to-mouth methods of common sense could be replaced by something much more scientific.Science was born—witness the astronomy and geometry of ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt.Natural science, in its modern form, can fairly be said to date back no further than the seventeenth century. John the Baptist, it developed its gospel and its ministry.Curiosity for its own sake, but also interest in industrial techniques and practical control; freedom of enquiry; experimental verification in place of authority; full publication and abundant discussion—with these a truly new phase was inaugurated.It too passed through the stage of trial and error, in which social organization shaped itself under the influence of unconscious adjustment together with non-rational rules of conduct and non-scientific interpretations of human destiny.It also had its traditional phases, often tightly bound up with philosophical and theological interpretative principles, as witness, for example, the climax of the Middle Ages.What consequences does this basic difference imply? Even if an absolute despot or a fully totalitarian state were to subject a group of people to rigorous experimentation—by depriving them of alcohol, for instance, or by adopting a new form of education—the results would have only a limited application.In the first place, man must be his own guinea pig. The smallness of the group, the compulsion involved, the inevitable limitations on the contacts and full social activity of the group: these factors would make it impossible to apply the results directly to an entire normal society, however regimented; and the difficulties are of course infinitely greater in any free society.Marx, on the other hand, developed a system directly based on social facts and directly applicable to them. As natural scientists tend to undervalue Bacon because he himself did not make discoveries or work out experimental techniques, so social scientists tend to underrate Marx because his system is a dialectical one, ready-made and complete with answer to any problem, not sufficiently empirical and inductive for their scientific taste.It is doubtless true that the social scientists must go their own way to work, regardless of doctrine or theoretical system; a precursor cannot take the place of the messiah or the gospel that he indicates.


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